Anger as HMO plan for Filton is approved without public hearing

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A councillor has described the system as ‘not fit for purpose’

Dozens of residents fighting plans to turn another Filton family home into bedsits have been denied the chance to state their case to councillors, sparking anger.

Labour Cllr Adam Monk, who represents the ward on South Gloucestershire Council, asked for the application for a change of use and extensions to 19 Branksome Drive to be heard by a planning committee because of objections from 59 neighbours and the town council.

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But the request was controversially refused by development management committee chairman Conservative Cllr Keith Burchell on the grounds that no “valid” reasons were given for the objections, and the application was instead decided in private by a council planning officer who granted permission.

Addressing the committee on Thursday, March 31 – two days after the decision was published – Cllr Monk said the system was “not fit for purpose” and that the householders had been stripped of their right to put their arguments to members.

Almost 60 objections have been made to turning this family home in Filton into bedsitsAlmost 60 objections have been made to turning this family home in Filton into bedsits
Almost 60 objections have been made to turning this family home in Filton into bedsits | LDRS

It is the latest twist in a saga that has seen Filton become a battleground for conversions of family homes into houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

The council has introduced new rules designed to prevent an overconcentration of bedsits in any one area, but the supplementary planning document (SPD) has a loophole that means only officially registered HMOs are taken into consideration when judging how many there are nearby.

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It has led to several occasions where the planning committee has had to decide between believing the council’s own figures for the number of bedsits in a locality, which tend to be lower than the 10 per cent maximum in the SPD, and locals’ estimates, which include unregistered properties such as those that don’t require a licence, and tend to be higher.

The officer’s report into the application, by Likemind Developments, to convert 19 Branksome Drive into a seven-bed HMO said Filton Town Council objected partly because the immediate neighbourhood already had an 11.2 per cent concentration of HMOs.

Filton ward Labour Cllr Adam Monk, bottom right, addresses South Gloucestershire Council development management committee remotely on Thursday, March 31Filton ward Labour Cllr Adam Monk, bottom right, addresses South Gloucestershire Council development management committee remotely on Thursday, March 31
Filton ward Labour Cllr Adam Monk, bottom right, addresses South Gloucestershire Council development management committee remotely on Thursday, March 31 | LDRS

But the report said that the official figure was only 5.7 per cent, well below the 10 per cent threshold, which Cllr Burchell highlighted in his written refusal notice to Cllr Monk’s call-in request when he decided that none of the reasons behind the objections were sufficient.

Cllr Monk told the meeting: “I would like to ask the committee if they feel that the process is fit for purpose.

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“Fifty-nine people have lost their opportunity to speak or have their concerns heard.

“They have no right of appeal, unlike an applicant. The process is not working as it should.”

He said the grounds for the objections, such as parking issues, noise and an overconcentration of HMOs, were matters of opinion that could be argued as reasons to refuse the application and should not have been simply dismissed by Cllr Burchell as being invalid.

“We all stood to represent the public, yet on this occasion people have decided the public do not have the right to speak, which is not correct,” Cllr Monk said.

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South Gloucestershire Council development management committee chairman Cllr Keith Burchell at the meeting on Thursday, March 31South Gloucestershire Council development management committee chairman Cllr Keith Burchell at the meeting on Thursday, March 31
South Gloucestershire Council development management committee chairman Cllr Keith Burchell at the meeting on Thursday, March 31 | LDRS

He said he only found out his referral to committee had been refused when he was told by residents and that neither officers nor the committee chairman had shown the courtesy to inform him.

Principal planning officer Marie Bath told the meeting she agreed that there should be a procedural change where ward members were automatically notified of decisions to accept or reject call-in requests.

She said a briefing note and training was being prepared to provide all councillors with guidance on the type of evidence officers were looking for when HMO applications were referred to committee.

Conservative Cllr Ernie Brown said: “Cllr Monk is quite right. He’s an elected member and an elected member should be able to call something to committee.”

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Cllr Burchell said: “It wasn’t officers that refused it, it was me. Under the constitution the chair has the right to refuse it.”

At the same meeting, members agreed with officers’ recommendation to approve the change of use of a family home at 2 The Orchard, North Street, Downend, into a 10-bed HMO despite objections from Downend & Bromley Heath Parish Council, Labour Cllr Ian Boulton and 17 residents.

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